In 1998, I was a year out of college, living with my parents in the New Jersey suburbs, and working as a textile designer in New York City. My whole life, it never occurred to me that I would do anything other than work in New York City, and live forever within its sprawl. My plan was to save money, move to Hoboken, and eventually move to The City. All was going according to plan.
Six months into my job, the company I was working for announced it would relocate to North Carolina, a place I had no interest in moving to. Instead of immediately starting to look for a new job, I decided I would travel for a month, much to the chagrin of everyone who thought I should "line something up" to return to. Truth was, I wasn't sure I wanted anything lined up to come back to in NYC. So, I got a passport, totally overpacked and went to Europe for 5 weeks with a gorgeous leather journal.
I came back knowing the world was a big place and I could live anywhere in it, and promptly moved out of New Jersey. I learned that I didn't just want to go on vacation; I wanted to travel. I wanted the places I went to and the people I met to change me, and I wanted to remember the details. Taking that journal with me made it especially meaningful.
There are things that happen on a trip that you can never capture with just your camera. Things taxi drivers say, meals you eat, smells and sounds of a café, or the feeling of accomplishment you feel when you order your train ticket in Italian. Those are all things that will fade as time goes by and reading about them years later will bring them flooding back. I have photos of cafés I've eaten in, but something about seeing the sugar pack from the coffee I drank there that I tucked between two pages, brings back the smells and sounds of that place so much more vividly.
Over the years I've pared my journal kit down to 6 essentials (8 if I'm feeling a little ambitious) for any trip, in any corner of the world. Here's what you need:
1. The journal itself I can't stress this enough: get a nice journal! It should inspire you to fill it and be worthy of the memories you're going to make. It also needs to be durable enough to stand up to the trip, and the right size so that you use it. Cheap journals often fall apart on the trip, or years later when you're looking through them. You've spent a lot of money and time planning this trip, invest in a nice journal that's worthy of it. Consider whether you want your pages lined or unlined, and if you'll want to do something wet (like watercolor) or more vigorous sketching, which would require a bit heavier paper. I highly recommend unlined pages so there is more freedom, with enough weight to them to allow for whatever you feel inspired to do.
2. A glue stick Perfect for gluing in ephemera you may pick up along the way, or doing little collages on the fly. I prefer the UHU Stic brand, you definitely don't want the washable kind, or everything will come undone.
3. Pencil Mechanical, so that the lead is hidden and doesn't get messy in your pocket or bag. Most museums don't allow note taking with anything but a pencil, so you'll want to be prepared.
4. Pens One water soluble that you can add some water if want some quick shading, I prefer Pilot brand. Also, one or two water resistant ones in case you're caught in the rain. I prefer Micron and usually get a black and a sepia color.
5. Waterbrush My absolute favorite tool! Fill with water and use with both your water soluble pen, or with your caran d'ache crayons to add some dimension.
6. Caran d'ache set This is an easy way to add color without carrying too much gear. I recommend the set of 10 because the case is flat and sturdy. You can also supplement with other colors, they sell them individually, by cracking them in half so you can fit twice as many colors in the case.
7. Small watercolor kit I bring this when I'm feeling more ambitious, but leave it out if I'm wanting to go super light. Windsor Newton makes a great set, but I've been many different types and styles, so find what works for you. I recommend being sure it's one that you can easily add or change out the little pans of color.
8. Water color kit extras If I'm bringing the little kit, then I also bring along a water bottle, a few more brushes and a handy plastic tub to wash out brushes but that folds flat.
This is the set that I've been bringing with me around the world since that trip in 1998. It serves me well and you can always just grab what you want for that day. Without a doubt, I wouldn't leave the hotel without the first 5 items. Do you have a journal kit? What will you not leave the hotel without?